Proverbs – Chapter 16

Who is Strong?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

A person can plan what he wants to say, but G-d has the final say in how well he speaks. Whatever a person does, he justifies in his own eyes; G-d is more objective. Include G-d in your plans and He will assist you in succeeding. Everything in the world exists to glorify G-d, even evil. Evil people will (tacitly) testify to G-d’s greatness when He punishes them for their deeds. The arrogant are especially repugnant to G-d and they will not escape unscathed.

A person’s sins can be forgiven and forgotten if he repents. When G-d welcomes a person back, He will even make peace between that person and his enemies. It ‘s better to enjoy a little acquired honestly than a lot gained through deceit. A person plans his journey, but G-d decides if his steps will be secure of if he will slip. The judge can see hidden things, ensuring that he does not err in judgment. (This last verse may refer to Solomon himself judging wisely, as in the case of the two women claiming the same baby in I Kings chapter 3.) The scales of justice belong to G-d and it is an affront to Him when people judge dishonestly.

The kings, who judge, love those who speak and act truthfully. The king’s wrath can lead to death, but the wise, honest man will appease the king in judgment. Life comes from G-d’s good graces; He is like beneficial rain to those whose actions please Him. We can learn how to “get on His good side” by pursuing knowledge; this is a much more profitable activity than pursuing wealth! The path of the righteous is to turn away from evil. (“The Path of the Righteous” – “Mesillas Yesharim” in Hebrew – is the name of the seminal work of musar, i.e., Jewish “self-improvement.”) Pride precedes a person stumbling – in other words, it “goeth before a fall.” One is better off living humbly with modest people than to live it up with the arrogant. (Unlike Billy Joel, Solomon says that it is NOT better to “laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints” because an outrageous reversal of fortune is unavoidable.)

A person who considers his alternatives before pursuing a course of action will be better off for it. He will find things better still if he places his trust in what G-d says to do, even if it involves great effort or costs him money. A wise student, who learns from his teacher, will come to be known as a person of understanding. Common sense is a source of life to those who exercise it, while fools will suffer the consequences of their nonsense. Words of Torah are sweet like honey; they will aid people in matters both physical and spiritual.

There is a path that appears straight to a person, but leads to death. A person works for his needs, stopping when he needs to eat. (Of course, he eats what he just earned, so it is counter-productive.) Lowly people plan evil in their hearts and execute it with their evil words. “Twisted people” are so called because they misrepresent facts and instigate fights, while complainers drive G-d away from themselves. A violent person lures others to join him in his evil ways. An elder person has acquired wisdom, so his white hair is like a crown on his head. The presence of elders is a sign of righteousness.

A person who can control his temper is mightier than a warrior; it’s better to rule over one’s self than over a city. (Again, like the mishna in Avos chapter 4: “Who is considered strong? The one who can conquer his urges.”) A person may cast lots to make decisions, but his real “lot” has already been decided by G-d.

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